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In defence of the dignity of women

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THE recent Prime Time television special on RTÉ in relation to prostitution in Ireland has been the prevalent topic of debate ever since, particularly in those towns which were shown on the programme.

The shameful exploitation of women, almost on our own doorsteps, has sent a ripple of indignation through the community and throughout the Church. I feel that the sense of quiet, unyielding anger should find a voice.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read a direct quote from St Catherine of Siena who asks the question, “What made you establish (wo)man in so great a dignity? Certainly the incalculable love by which you have looked on your creature in yourself! You are taken with love for her; for by love indeed you created her, by love you have given her a being capable of tasting your eternal Good.”(1) 
This deeply profound answer given by the saint gives us a taste of the truth of our very existence.
We were created by love, for love. We were created in order to attain to the beatific vision, in order to glimpse the divine life of Christ and by communion with him to partake in that divine life. It is this truth that prompts us to return again to the Catechism, which tells us that of all visible creatures, only the human person is “able to know and love his creator”.
We are “the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake” and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that were created and this is the fundamental reason for our dignity.
But what does this dignity mean? What is it? In the world of today does this dignity have a role to play? In the book Perspectives on Human Dignity we read an interesting quotation from Pope Benedict XVI who, in quoting the Catechism once again tells us that “…as one created in the image of God, each human being has the dignity of a person; he or she is not just something but someone…” (2) 
These simple words highlight the intrinsic truth that is inseparable from our very existence; that being we are all created uniquely and in our creation we are people, not mere objects to be traded from brothel to brothel for the financial gain of some and the sexual gratification of others. Indeed, this shameless practice is, in the words of Pope John Paul I in his final audience of 1978, “…a scandal”. (3) 
These words may appear strong but one must be strong in their condemnation of this destruction of humanity, of dignity and, ultimately, of life.
Let me return briefly to the concept of dignity. Throughout the last century, so many papal encyclicals have called for a respect for human dignity. Pope John XXIII’s Mater et Magistra, Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio and Pope John Paul II’s Redemptor Hominis all strongly advocate the development of and nurturing of human dignity. This call, this focus on the dignity of the human person is “…rooted in the belief in the human being’s new creation in Christ as his image on earth…”. (4) 
In other words, if we believe that we are created in the image and likeness of God, then we too believe that as Christ came among us as a man, that in his resurrection he raised us with him and in his ascension to the Father, he took our humanity back with him to heaven. In other words, it is in our humanity that he stands before the Father.
In terms of Eucharistic theology this is quite interesting. If, as we believe, every mass is a re-presentation of the events of Calvary on Good Friday then as we receive the body and blood of Christ then it is in us that Jesus offers himself to the Father on our behalf.
It is through this unique and intimate union that we share with God that our dignity springs. It is for this reason that I believe “…every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church’s very heart”. (5) 
Our human dignity therefore is a matter of the divine, it is a matter of union with God and therefore is a matter for the universal Church, the body of Christ here on earth.
I am not sure why the pimps who operate in the towns of Ireland feel the need to exploit young women and to remove their God-given dignity in such a manner and, of course, one can not speak personally for the women involved as it is only they themselves know what they are going through.
I do believe, however that as a Church we, as people of God, cannot ignore this nor can we simply let it die into the ether so to speak. If we truly believe in our dignity, in our uniqueness as a created person, then we should stand up and be counted in this right. It will be interesting to see what happens as we move forward.

(Fr Ger Fitzgerald is a curate in Ennis parish)

1. St Catherine of Siena, Dialogue 4,13 On Divine Providence:LH, Sunday, week 19, OR.
2. Perspectives on Human Dignity: A Conversation, eds., Jeff Malpas & Norelle Lickiss, (Dordrecht: Springer, 2007), 128.
3. Pope John Paul I, Albino Luciani, speaking on love, described the arms race as a scandal.
4. Dominic Robinson, Understanding the Imago Dei: The Thought of Barth, Von Balthasar and Moltmann, (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2011), 2.
5. Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995).


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